Every reviewer asks the question of why great bands would put out anticipated records right at the end of the year. I’ve done that too, especially because that was my first reaction to the announcement of Sulphur Aeon’s The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos, the follow-up to Gateway to the Antisphere (also known as “the Best Record ov 2015”). The confusion stems from Top Ten lists being ready to go anywhere from October to early December, along with the fact that we tend to think everyone is obsessed with them as we reviewers are. They’re not, and Sulphur Aeon fans will just be stoked that new music from their favorite Cthulhu-themed melodic death metal act is here. Those unaware will be exposed to it through other means: recommendations from friends, trawling the web for new music, reviews written by some philosophy nerd; that sort of thing. No need to fret after all! There is need to celebrate though, because Sulphur Aeon has returned from the deep to bring us more Cthulhu and, most importantly, riffs.
Sulphur Aeon sounds like what would happen if you put Dawn of Disease and Necrophobic in a room and asked them to record something like Gateways to Annihilation. Both bands would have to be at their prime: Dawn of Disease would provide the burliness and the huge melodies, while Necrophobic would provide an icy touch, less straightforward structures, and would temper and fetter the saccharine nature of Dawn of Disease’s melodic ambitions. This is winding, burly death metal with a great ear for melody; what dissonance is for Immolation, minor-key consonance is for Sulphur Aeon.
Like mozzarella sticks with a cold pint as an appetizer, “Cult of Starry Wisdom” starts things off right. An instantly recognizable lumbering, melodic, monolithic riff—Sulphur Aeon’s main asset—kicks in after some watery ambiance. M. enters in with some surprising clean vocals, which fit well and sound like something Blaze of Perdition or Maniac-era Mayhem would use. The chorus is built around a stunner of a melody, undergirded by D.’s hefty, active drums. An expansive and effective lead closes the song out, making for a flawless six minutes. “Lungs into Gills” begins on what may be the melo-death riff of the year, an incredible amalgam of chugging and harmony. There are some huge riffs in a Bolt Thrower sense here, and large part of what makes Sulphur Aeon so compelling is their mastery of both huge melodies and crushing riffs. The music, in this sense, portrays the deep, dark, depths of the ocean expertly: vast, crushing, expansive, terrifying, beautiful. Closing number “Thou Shalt Not Speak His Name (The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos)” reflects this, and the same gut-punch I got from the melodies in Gateway’s “He is the Gate” occurred again here.
I like Gateway to the Antisphere slightly more than The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos. The reasons are wholly arbitrary, a big one one being that there’s no quasi-breakdown like the ending of “Devotion to the Cosmic Chaos” here. The production on Scythe sounds fuller than its predecessor, like a better Zos Kia Cultus. It’s less echo-y than Gateway and their debut, but none of the atmospheric touch of the oceanic depths is lost. “Sinister Sea Sabbath” sees Sulphur Aeon expanding what they would cram into six minutes into nine-and-a-half minutes, leaving more time for the buildup and release of tension, which they fully exploit. Scythe is not a step back, but another step forward; keeping thematically true while subtly introducing new elements is exactly how to progress in a worthwhile way as a band.
The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos is the last new release I’ll be reviewing in 2018. It’s an exhilarating way to cap off the year in writing. The three-record winning streak Sulphur Aeon is now on is nothing short of incredible, and I haven’t been around for anything like it in my time as a metalhead. There’s no way what’s happening here is luck. No, Sulphur Aeon are simply a great band, perhaps the best new band of the 2010s. Listening to The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos, I get the feeling once again that this is the product of a vision coming to fruition, the perfect synthesis of heavy yet melodically accessible metal and Lovecraft’s gift for atmosphere that pervades the Cthulhu mythos. Nothing can convey the horrible majesty of Lovecraft’s most famous literary creation—nothing except Sulphur Aeon’s music.